walls, poets, and strategy

Good fences make good neighbors…  -Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Walls keep some things in and some things out.  While rivers, oceans, mountains and forests are natural boundaries, it is the inventiveness of men to construct un-natural boundaries declaring to all “this is MINE”.  Trust and brotherly love seems to have been lost with Cain setting out after killing Abel.  Fear and desire for control supplanted harmony.  Men created walls.

The Great Wall of China

Originally started in the Third Century BC, by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, this series of walls and fortifications was started with labor comprised of soldiers and convicts.  In the interest of security,  that labor had a terrible cost in lives.  History.com  states that perhaps 400,000 died during the construction.  Over the last millennium, a series of sometimes parallel walls fifteen to thirty feet in height and up to fifty feet thick at its base, the Wall was not really keeping anyone out.  Though often stated that is was intended to keep the barbarians – Mongols and foreigners  – out, it served mostly as a symbol.  Ironically, the Mongol rulers of China manned the wall to protect commerce along the trade routes of the Chinese empire.  It’s the only tourist attraction of the 21st Century visible from space.

The Maginot Line

Following the horrific casualties,  mustard gas, trench warfare and devastation of the First World War,  leaders in France, in the 1930s decided to build fortifications on the French-Germany border to prevent future incursion by Germany into France.  Part of the wall was not a wall at all, but a series of fortresses and used the natural steep terrain  thought to hinder the advancement of an enemy force.  Part relied on the thick Ardenne forests and did not wall off the complete border.   While the German army did penetrate the Ardenne forest and circumvented the Maginot Line,  the French also failed to seal the border with other nations.  Ironically, from the French side of the fortified line,  the Allied troops found that the defenses were difficult to penetrate as they advanced toward Germany in 1944.

Macnamara’s Line

President Trump’s insistence on a wall is another in a series of fence strategies – Russians partitioning Germany, the French in Algeria, and even during the Vietnam conflict.   On September 7, 1967 then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara  announced that an electronic barrier would be constructed to signal our forces when the North Vietnamese Army infiltrated south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the South Vietnam border with North Vietnam.  It was the second attempt in Vietnamese history to separate political entities of rival factions, for political and economic reasons.  Each faction was supported by a European power, one Dutch and the other Portuguese, seeking to expand their economic interest in the region.  That was in the 17th Century.

By the time the French were losing their colonies in Indochina to the Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh, they had successfully re-deployed their forces to their Algerian colony and were implementing a wall there that combined a lethal electric fence with anti-personnel mines.  It was a very successful effort, but the cost in personnel and public sentiment in France to the conflict resulted in the French withdrawing.   In Vietnam, by the mid-1960s, the United States strategy to oppose the infiltration of South Vietnam through troop deployment was not working.  And so an idea germinated to build a wall. While the military supported expanding the war into the countries bordering South Vietnam and the North, another group supported deploying technological means along with huge numbers of mines , against personnel and vehicle traffic, to impede the infiltration of troops into South Vietnam.  Through surveillance and aerial bombardment, the US attempted to thwart the use of the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Considering the issues that impeded the surveillance, detection, collection and dissemination of the intelligence gathered,  and the war’s huge cost in personnel, and political unrest at home, it was a failure.

Mexico’s  “wall”

Mexico -Guatemala

Studies  do not get a lot of attention in the media when they do not enhance the current pro-immigration ( in Orwellian newspeak, illegal is blotted out by those who ignore law that does not suit them)  sentiment about a border wall along the southern US border,  cite the abuses that tens of thousands of migrants passing through the border with Guatemala and Belize. Drug traffickers, criminals, migration officials and corrupt local police are chiefly responsible.  Workers are exploited at very poor wages from the migrant population at the border.

For any worker who complains to the government about the exploitation,  the process is  typical of bureaucracy – requiring paperwork, a series of hearings attended by the complainant, and any finding in favor of the worker,  put responsibility on him to report the findings to the employer.   As for the Mexican government response,  they deport illegals or arrest them.  In the article this information was described, then -President Vicente Fox – seventeen years ago – stated how he was implementing a development corridor and better conditions including amnesty for illegals working in Mexico with forged documents.  For a government and its proxies, the lobbying groups in the United States,  to hold America accountable for trying to stop illegal migration,  a metaphor of dwellers in glass houses throwing stones at the United States is readily apparent.

Lost in all these historical perspectives of walls and borders are the people who suffer from the criminals, profiteers, corruption, unkept promises, fear and cynicism.  And that is from those who are living legally within a nation.  Walls have rarely been effective for very long in the history of civilization.  And the political systems that rely on walls, when everyone else is trying to dig under them, bribe the guardians at the gates, go around them, go through or encourage rebellion within the walls will not have security.

While politicians debate walls,  consider Robert Frost, neither political nor a polemic, on the nature of walls:

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”